Congress set to compensate victims of Iranian state terror

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is finalizing legislation that would compensate U.S. diplomats taken hostage in 1979 and their families, using money paid in fines and forfeiture to the US government from businesses that have violated U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“This is a major breakthrough,” attorney Tom Lankford says of a proposal that has been carefully negotiated with the U.S. State Department. “We’ve got many people who are elderly and ailing and very, very ill, and we’re hopeful something is done very, very promptly.”

Under the agreement, surviving hostages would receive about $3 million each, and their spouses $600,000, under a deal brokered with the State Department by Georgia Republican Senator Johnny Isakson and Maryland Democrat Senator Ben Cardin.

The U.S. diplomats taken hostage by revolutionary “students” loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini have faced a legal barrier that has prevented them from getting a judgment against the Iranian regime in U.S. courts.

The U.S. agreement with Iran that led to the captives’ 1981 release, known as the Algiers Accords, prohibits the former hostages from seeking damages from Iran. Against that backdrop, they have lost their court battles, as administrations under different presidents have stood by the terms of that agreement.

The Department of Justice announced last month that it would set aside a portion of the $15.5 billion in sanctions violation fines, penalties and forfeited assets paid by banks, to compensate individuals who have been “harmed” by the actions of Iran, Sudan, and Cuba. These three are the last remaining state sponsors of international terrorism.

In information released in May, DoJ said their first priority would be to compensate individuals “harmed” by the state sponsors between 2004-2012, roughly the period of the sanctions violations committed by the banks assessed with the largest penalties.

But they held the door open to victims of state actions that occurred before or after those years. Last week’s bipartisan agreement at the Senate Foreign Relations committee appears to be aimed at pushing the DoJ to open the window wider.